I think it’s probably part of the human condition to assume everything is about us. When we feel got at or ignored, badly treated or overlooked we may feel certain that a personal slight was intended by whomever has supposedly wronged us. While sometimes this may be true, I think more frequently it is an issue of ego combined with coincidence, paranoia, accidental oversight or a more minor lack of interest.
When I was on placement doing my research, and someone lowered their voice to have a private conversation, my instinct was to assume that they must be talking about me. It’s possible this was sometimes the case, but more likely that they just wanted to have a private chat or moan which wouldn’t be recorded by the researcher. So in that case, it was only partly about me – the moan could well have been about someone or something else entirely even if the lowered voice was to avoid my keen researcher’s ears. It’s also possible they didn’t want someone else present to hear what they were saying. It may not have been about me at all.
When I post something on the internet and it seems to fall flat, I also tend to assume it must be because people aren’t interested in what I have to say. Maybe they hate me or think I’m being ridiculous or really boring, I hypothesise. Whereas in actual fact, it may be more likely that they are busy with other things or just interested but not sufficiently moved to comment. I have read many items by others on the internet with considerable interest but I rarely take the time to comment. I assume that my comment would not be valued or noticed, or I tell myself that I am too busy just now but I might write something later.
When I was training as a dramatherapist, our own emotional responses to situations were things we were trained to notice and consider. “What is your fantasy?” was the question asked, which thankfully wasn’t quite so personal as it maybe sounds. The question meant, “Where is your imagination taking you on this one?” or “What are you thinking or assuming (that may not actually be the case)?” We were encouraged to be reflective like this, and to consider what our imaginings reveal about ourselves rather than the others to whom we may be attributing all kinds of extreme thoughts or motives.
Separating our own issues from those of the clients we are trying to help is an important skill in therapy, and similarly in research we may try to ‘bracket’ off our own biases and influences to be more objective. While it would be foolish to assume we are never at fault or influencing others, a more realistic view of our own power and likely effect may help us to assess our situation more humbly and relax. There’s a balance needed in recognising our abilities to help and change things while acknowledging our limitations and relative lack of importance.